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Thursday, 31 May 1973
Page: 2977

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) complained about the minimal notice he received of these amendments. I would like to echo his sentiments and explain that, although I asked the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) a minute ago for copies of the amendments, I find that there is an additional one which he still has not moved. I refer to the amendment to insert the words 'a warrant from a justice of the peace' etc. I have only just received a copy of it.

Mr Connor - It is a very simple one.

Mr SINCLAIR - That may be so. The point of the whole exercise is that this is an extremely important and complex measure. It is important that there be an opportunity for members of this national Parliament to consider the implications of what is the first of the nationalisation Bills to be introduced into this place by the Labor Government. On the second reading I opposed, on behalf of the Australian Country Party, everything other than the planning conception for this Authority. The amendment now before the committee will give to the Pipeline Authority a significantly extended role which will enable it to undertake the functions which were previously included within clause 13 of the original Bill. Also it will now provide further restrictions which indicate to me that the role of private enterprise in the development of petroleum resources in Australia will be virtually eliminated in future. I think that that is by no means too strong a way to define the way in which I see the implications of the further extension of powers included in the Minister's amendment.

Within the concept of regulating supply there would be advantages if one could ensure that the different communities in Australia would pay a standard or uniform price. There would be advantages if the resources could be directed through a common pipeline in such a way that the maximum benefit for a minimal outlay could be passed on to the consumers. But under proposed paragraph (f) the extended powers would allow the Authority to control condensate, petroleum gas and other substances derived from natural gas in

Australia and processed in Australia. A decision which would normally be made by the Government apparently will be passed over to the Pipeline Authority. In other words, it will not be the Government or this Parliament that will have an opportunity to decide who will be using petroleum gas and in what way; the Pipeline Authority will be doing that. To my mind, whilst the Authority might have a body of expertise which is missing in this place, it should not be given the responsibility on its own to decide such a fundamental matter of prime responsibility to a Government.

Similarly I am apprehensive at the extension of the power included in proposed paragraph (g), to secure, control and retain reserves. Does that mean, as one may presume, that if in the normal course of exploitation a commercial operator should seek to retain a percentage of the reserves within its own field, this Pipeline Authority will be capable of directing a change in its commercial decision? Presumably it would do so. It could mean a diversion of the reserves of that commercial operator. It could mean the manipulation of those reserves in such a way as to be to the distinct disadvantage of that commercial operator but not necessarily to the advantage of the economics of consumption of the Australian people. Again it will be the Pipeline Authority that will be doing so much more than planning. It will be undertaking the whole range of responsibilities within the control of petroleum exploitation and development and the control and application of the reserves in Australia. To my mind, the implications of this further extension of power are quite frightening for those who have to date contributed significant sums of money to the discovery and exploitation of resources around this country.

The Bill has been returned to us for reconsideration. Of course, it is not open to us to do anything other than discuss this particular extension of authority. To my mind, the extension is only a further step along the line towards complete control of the private sector's intervention in this part of the Australian economy. Because it is an intervention which is being passed to a statutory authority, its implications to the community are even more frightening. It is necessary that there be a body of knowledge and expertise available to apply the resources in a manner meaningful to the whole community and to reduce the power involved in the amendments is just a further step towards removing the actual right of decision from the Government and removing the opportunities for exploitation which' have been paid for significantly by private investment, albeit with the supplement of the subsidies provided by the previous Government. The Australian Country Party believes that this is an area within which there needs to be the maintenance of an opportunity for private sector investment. It is an area in which there seems to be little justification for the application of taxpayers' funds. It is an area in which there needs to be regulation, co-ordination and comprehensive planning. But those are all areas which can be accomplished without the application of the specific provisions which these amendments are now providing.

For that reason, on behalf of the Australian Country Party I would like to express my reservations about the amendment which is now introduced. I believe that the amendment will not be to the benefit of the Australian consumer or to the benefit of the exploitation of Australian resources. I believe that it is most unfortunate that, in the circumstances of this parliamentary sitting, it is not open to us to oppose the amendment and to take the matter further. The only reason that I do not press opposition to this amendment is that it is necessary to have an early commencement of the construction of the pipeline. Already, as the honourable member for Farrer has explained, there has been a significant delay in the construction of the pipeline - a delay that has been caused solely by the intervention of this Labor Government in a contract that was entered into by a private company, the Australian Gas Light Corporation, for the construction of the line to supply Sydney. It is true that in terms of the construction of the pipeline the action of the Labor Government is the significant factor in delaying construction. It is imperative, however, that there be no further delay. I am in accord with the amendment moved by the honourable member for Farrer. I express my own strong reservations about the implications of the measure that has been introduced by the Minister.

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